Pea protein and estrogen / oestrogen / phytoestrogen

Pea protein is a complete plant-based source of protein. If you use pea protein or are thinking about using pea protein, I suspect you’re probably interested in your diet, and think carefully about what you eat. A frequent question in relation to protein powders, specifically vegan-friendly powders is, does pea protein contain estrogen / oestrogen / phytoestrogen? In this post, we find out, based on scientific papers and numbers, not blog-science and bro-science.

pea protein estrogen oestrogen phytoestrogen


What is estogen / oestrogen / phytoestrogen ?

However you spell it, oestrogen is the main female sex hormone. Both men and women produce it in their bodies, but women produce it in higher quantities. It’s needed in the body mainly in relation to the development and regulation of sex characteristics.

Phytoestrogens are substances that can produce oestrogen-like effects in the body, but are not produced in the body. We tend to ingest and intake phytoestrogens from food. A lot of foods contain phytoestrogenic compounds. However, some foods contain much larger amounts.

Foods high in phytoestrogens have the capacity to affect the ‘normal’ hormonal balance in the body. It’s thought that eating lots of foods high in phytoestrogens can be protective against some illnesses for some people, but raise the risk of some illnesses for other people. There doesn’t seem to be robust and conclusive evidence across the spectrum. For some males, excessive intake of foods high in phytoestrogens can increase the risk of developing female physiological characteristics, one example being gynocomastia (breast tissue). So, it’s good to be aware of eating foods that have the capacity to change the hormonal state in the body.

Does pea protein contain estrogen / oestrogen / phytoestrogen ?

Most blogs that discuss this question don’t provide robust and transparent answers. They just state that certain food groups are high in phytoestrogens without evidence. This doesn’t really help, we need to be specific, so we can make informed decisions.

Pea protein doesn’t contain estrogen / oestrogen as this is the hormone that is produced in the body. However, pea protein does contain phytoestrogens in relatively low quantities, at a level similar to most other foods. It is at a level that is much lower than soy protein (or flax seed).

Soy products are considered to have very high levels of phytoestrogens. As you can see from the table below, peas (pisum savitum), are several orders of magnitude below soy.

Regarding the table below:

  • The values are given as ranges because different values have been found across the research articles.
  • Phytoestrogens can be classified as either isoflavanones or lignans. Total phytoestrogens = isoflavanones + lignans.
  • μg means micro-gram (one millionth of a gram, 1/1,000,000 g). so a value of 15 μg/100g means 0.000015g per 100g of food.

Table 1 – Pea protein and estrogen / oestrogen / phytoestrogen – content of some common food types.

Food typeTotal
Phytoestrogens

(μg/100g)
Isoflavanones
(μg/100g)
Lignans
(μg/100g)
Beans (kidney)40-1701-7020-90
Chickpeas (as houmous)170-900135-88020-80
Peas (split, dried)15114
Peas (petit pois)862
Soya bean17,000 – 140,00017,980 – 139,50020
Tofu10,60010,59010
Tomato3-101-91-2

Based on the results as shown in the table above, I consider it likely that pea protein powder contains a low level of phytoestrogens.

It should be noted that the research that this article is based on, didn’t specifically test pea protein powder. I am assuming that the values for ‘pea’ products will be of the same order and magnitude as for pea protein.

Pea protein and estrogen / oestrogen / phytoestrogen – links

To write this post I reviewed sections of the following papers:

Now that you know pea protein rates OK for estrogen / oestrogen / phytoestrogens, why don’t you read about a tasty pea protein smoothie?

I use pea protein as part of my daily diet, with smoothie shakes in the morning and evening. I tend to use Canadian Protein as they’re reputable, local, 3rd part tested and reasonably priced.

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